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Reagan took an aggressive stance against Communism, which he called "the evil empire." He built up American military might and announced his intention to deploy a Strategic Defense Initiative (1983), better known as Star Wars, to shoot down Soviet missiles before they could get to the United States.

This plan apparently impressed the Soviets more than it did U.S. scientists; Star Wars was cited as one of the reasons the Soviet Union gave up the military race with the United States and began to dismantle their Communist economic system. The U.S. military was never actually able to deploy a large-scale missile defense system, but the bluff worked.

Before the fall of Communism in the U.S.S.R, tensions increased, sometimes dangerously. The Soviets clamped down on a freedom movement, sponsored by labor unions, called Solidarity (1981) in the government of Poland which they controlled. The U.S. responded with tough words and an economic embargo. When the U.S.S.R. shot down a South Korean passenger plane that had strayed into Soviet airspace in 1983, Reagan called it an act of barbarism. By the end of 1983, all arms-control negotiations had broken down. The Soviet Union almost launched nuclear weapons against the U.S. when they briefly mistook a Western military exercise for a nuclear attack. The Soviets also boycotted the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles . The Cold War was reaching the freezing point.

The U.S. flexes its military muscles

In the 1980s, Iran and Iraq were fighting a war that the United States didn't mind watching; America had little love for the leaders of either country. The U.S. supplied arms to Iraq in the early 1980s as payback against Iran for holding American embassy people hostage up to the first hour of the Reagan administration. This arms deal was one reason that Iran may have been behind the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon.

In 1983, Reagan sent troops into Lebanon to try to calm endless Middle East conflicts. More than 200 Marines died when an Arab extremist suicide bomber blew up their barracks. U.S. troops, who never had a clear mission to begin with, withdrew a few months later.

In the same month, Reagan sent a heavily armed invasion party to the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada to wipe out some Communist troublemakers. This military incursion succeeded in restoring democratic government in a move that would have made Teddy Roosevelt proud.

Reagan cruised to reelection against a Democratic ticket that included, for the first time in history, a woman as vice presidential nominee.

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